Mohammad Yazid, Jakarta
A beggar recently scolded my wife for refusing to give him some money at a busy intersection in Cempaka Putih (famously known as Coca-Cola intersection), Central Jakarta.
"How stingy, so what’s the headscarf for?" he said to my wife. I told my wife not to roll down the car window because I was afraid he was a crook.
Bluffing and smirking have become forms of pressure exerted by beggars operating at nearly every crossroad in Jakarta.
They employ various other methods at other places such as public transportation and residential areas. Some use the conventional style of pretending to be starving or seriously ill, while others apply the criminal way of extorting money from passengers by appearing as alcoholics or newly released convicts.
Women have an effective trick of approaching benevolent people and exploiting the innocent looks of children under the age of five and carrying "hired infants" at Jakarta intersections.
There is no official data on the total number of beggars in Jakarta, but according to Suciardi, head of the commercial sex rehabilitation service at the Jakarta Social Welfare Office, their numbers increase by 40 percent during Ramadhan through Idul Fitri, from the 2,295 normally found in the city.
Chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, Seto Mulyadi, said the number of street children in Greater Jakarta reached 80,000.
Amid the prevailing economic difficulties and different mishaps affecting Indonesia, many people choose begging as their profession, because they often make more than those who work at government offices or private businesses. Earning about Rp 50,000 to Rp 75,000 daily on average, in a month a beggar can make Rp 1.5 million, far more than Jakarta’s minimum wage of Rp 900,000.
Most of the vagrants in Jakarta have come from other areas like Indramayu and Brebes regencies, where they lived quite decent lives. In Pragaan Daya village, Pragaan district, Sumenep, Madura (East Java), begging is even part of the culture of residents and a main source of livelihood for people.
They practice begging not only on Madura Island and parts of East Java, but also in Batam, Kalimantan, Jakarta and even Malaysia.
The annual rise in the number of beggars is partly the result of the high level of concern shown by Jakarta residents. Apart from considerations of legality and responsibility, we are less aware that our care for street people turns them into persistent beggars. Our concern may be seen as showing off our generosity.
The same is true of the small change given to street children, who number about 40,000 in Jakarta with each earning around Rp 20,000 to Rp 30,000 daily.
In this context, Jakarta’s controversial bylaw No.8/2007 on public order, which among other things prohibits people from employing street beggars and from giving money to mostly juvenile beggars and roadside singers, can be understood.
Nonetheless, the problem is whether the provincial administration has made the preparations and formulated a solution to face the consequences of this bylaw’s implementation. It should be questioned how far the regulation has taken heed of the existing rules on protection for the rights of children and low-income people.
To this end, Jakarta may have to learn from the experiences of several other provinces and city administrations such as Makassar and Surakarta, where bans on street beggars and singers are also imposed. Yet these cities’ regulations are accompanied by the proper handling of former street children and teenagers, who are now provided with modest homes and trained in various skills so that they are too busy to roam.
With Ramadhan drawing to a close and Idul Fitri just around the corner, the Jakarta administration can make optimal use of the zakat, sadaqah and infaq (religious alms and charity) required of Muslims who are better off to help the poor and provide for street children.
Various religious institutions are already in place to manage such alms like the national alms agency BAZNAS, Dompet Dhuafa Republika and other smaller groups in mosques.
According to an independent audit, funds received in 2004 by the Jakarta alms and charity board BAZIS totaled Rp 8.3 billion, while other similar alms and donations reached Rp 7.9 billion, far smaller than the estimated income of street children. This indicates the lack of confidence society has in Jakarta’s BAZIS.
Therefore, it is necessary to have a zakat management agency that works professionally with reliable, dedicated and transparent management personnel. Zakat funds should be managed in a more modern fashion in order to win the sympathy of Muslims. Those of higher financial standing should also be aware of the need to set aside some of their income beyond Idul Fitri.
The writer is a member of The Jakarta Post‘s Opinion Desk. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.